Let me describe for you a fictional phone call that represents countless calls that are placed by pastors every week to their members.
Pastor Jones hasn’t seen the Williams at church for quite some time so on a Tuesday afternoon, he picks up his phone to give them a call. After a few rings, Mr. Williams picks up and greets his pastor enthusiastically but inwardly feels a bit uneasy about the possible purpose of the call. Pastor Jones opens up the conversation by asking generally about the William’s well being (not even mentioning their lack of attendance recently). Mr. Williams begins his reply by acknowledging the elephant in the room and continuing to profusely apologize and explain the causes of their recent absence. Pastor Jones listens for a while and then interjects to diffuse the defensive tone of the conversation. Pastor Jones explains to Mr. Williams that he didn’t call to make him feel guilty; instead he called to make him aware of what he and his family have been missing out on. Namely, God’s ordinary means of grace in and through the gathering of the local church.
Conversations like the one above highlight a fundamental misunderstanding of why Christians gather with the church. Christians do not gather to please their pastor, to maintain their reputation in the Christian community, or even simply because it’s the “right thing to do.” Christians gather with the church to meet with God and His people and to receive the ordinary means of His grace in and through the gathering.
Let’s unpack that sentence for a few minutes…
The author of Hebrews winsomely and convincingly argues that Jesus Christ, our Great High Priest, has not only entered into God’s presence on our behalf but also welcomes us to follow Him into God’s presence. In Hebrews 10:19-22, he implores us with these words: “Therefore, brothers, since 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, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 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.”
In summary, Jesus makes it possible for sinful people to enter into God’s presence. Not just individual sinful persons, but a sinful people collectively. Namely, God’s chosen people in Christ! The writer of Hebrews doesn’t merely exhort individuals to draw near to God privately, he invites us to meet with God together publicly since Jesus has given us confidence to do so!
When primarily does this corporate meeting of God and His people take place? Well it takes place when a local assembly of blood washed saints comes together for the express purpose of meeting with their God. For us here at Abner Creek, it happens at 10:30am every Sunday morning at 2461 Abner Creek Road in Greer, SC. Don’t underestimate what happens every week in our corporate worship services! Our corporate worship isn’t a tradition, an optional add on to the Christian life, or souped up private devotional time; Corporate worship is nothing less than a meeting between God and His people! Don’t miss out on this wonderful weekly means of grace!
Back in Hebrews 10, we not only find an exhortation to come before God together but we also find exhortations to confess our hope together and consider how to help one another. The local church meeting is not only a meeting with God, it is a meeting with God’s people. The dual purpose of the church gathering is exalting God and edifying believers together. Notice the purpose is not personal engagement with God or a private spiritual experience. Corporate worship is exactly that: corporate. A meeting where God’s people are expected to interact with one another.
So what should be the focus of our interactions? According to Hebrews 10:23, we should “hold fast the confession of our hope.” This is something we do together. We sing together, we pray together, we receive Scripture together all in an effort to hold fast to the hope that is ours collectively. You see, salvation in Christ is not only my hope but it is our hope! On Sunday, we all place a firm grip on that hope together and hold on to it!
Our interactions with God’s people on the Lord’s day should involve holding fast to our hope but they should also involve considering how to help one another wholeheartedly follow Jesus. “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works” (Hebrews 10:24). Why gather with the church on Sunday? Gather with the goal of galvanizing your brothers and sisters into godliness. Gather with the expectation of being energized and edified by your church family. When we miss church we miss out on one of God’s ordained means of our perseverance and progressive sanctification.
Christians gather with the church to meet with God and His people and to receive the ordinary means of His grace in and through the gathering. This is what Pastor Jones discussed with Mr. Williams for the rest of that phone call. Pastor Jones wanted him to understand that gathering with the church faithfully is not for the purpose of pleasing the pastor or preserving a reputation. Instead, it is about pursuing God’s ordinary means of grace through meeting publically with God and His people. Sunday gatherings may seem ordinary but they offer extraordinary grace. Don’t miss out! To use the words of Hebrews 10:25, “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.”