Must We Attend Every Meeting of the Church?
Two extremes are typical of answers to the question, "Must we attend every meeting of the church?" While some regard any absence from any service as a mortal sin, others are indifferent or even disdainful of attendance and regard the regular meetings of the church as entirely optional. As is typically the case, the better answer lies somewhere between mortal sin and optional meetings. This article is written against the extremes and in favor of a better answer.
Eliminating the Extremes
While active, engaged presence in worship services and Bible classes is clearly important, one should not conclude that every absence is a mortal mistake. Jesus challenged this extreme and the extreme rigidity of Jewish religious lawyers and Pharisees by asking, "Which of you, having a son or an ox that has fallen into a well on a Sabbath day, will not immediately pull him out?” (Lk. 14:5). His point was that critical emergencies can and should trump religious pieties.
There is a difference, however, between critical "necessity and habits of self-indulgence" (Matthew Henry). This difference is not respected by those who indulge every pretense that prevents them from attending. At the far extreme from abandoning the ox in the ditch is the extreme of abandoning meetings of the church for any ball game, social engagement, television special, or "I'm just too tired" excuse (who's not tired?).
Rejecting rigidity and self-indulgence, better solutions to the problem of "Must we attend every meeting of the church?" are found in scripture. Several passages ought to weigh in our thinking as we decide where we need to be on Sunday morning, Sunday night, and Wednesday night.
Hebrews 10:24-25 deserves attention: "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."
Like many other kinds of human behavior, frequency of attendance is influenced by the behavior of others. Creatures of the habits of others, we can work together to "stimulate" each other, or we can work apart to discourage each other. We all need the "encouragement" of each other's attendance because we are all subject to the common human weaknesses of being lazy and finding good reasons in bad excuses. We should "consider" how our attitudes toward attendance and how our actual attendance influences the attendance of others.
Then and now, the "habit of some" is to "forsake." This "signifies infrequency in attending with the saints." These words must be understood as a condemnation and not as a compliment, especially in an age when some consider themselves to be great champions of Christian liberty when they choose to be elsewhere.
Aimed primarily, but not exclusively, at occasions when we are called together into one place to eat the Lord's supper, Hebrews 10:24-25 should be joined in our thinking by other passages that are more general, like Matthew 6:33: "Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness." In this "priority passage," Jesus describes the blessed as being seekers - their life is a purposeful journey. Instead of seeking on their own and without a map, blessed seekers are guided toward the highest and best of godly behavior.
Also reforming our priorities is Philippians 1:10: "Approve what is excellent." Gaining knowledge and growing in insight, understanding, and the ability to judge or discern (see Phil. 1:9) Christians have spiritual excellence as our goal. The mediocrity of middling attendance does not meet this high standard.
Matthew 6:33 and Philippians 1:10 work together to elevate Christian decision-making and to eliminate common questions. Understanding these verses, who could demand, "Can you prove that I must be there?" or "Can you prove that it is wrong to neglect this meeting or that?" The better answer coming from all of these verses is that there is no better place to be other than with the brethren, studying the Lord's word, and worshipping the Lord though songs and prayers.