Sometimes when you read the Bible, you get caught on a single verse. Sometimes a single word. You read it, and you’re hung up – you can’t move on. Maybe it’s because that word strikes an emotional chord. Maybe that word stirs up and stokes your affections. Maybe you just sense that this small section requires further reflection.
That’s an okay thing. Scripture is not meant to be rushed through, but instead to be thought deeply upon. Savored. Cherished.
And yet, it’s helpful even in those moments to zoom out after a time and remember a few other details. It’s important to remember, for example, who wrote the book to begin with. And who the audience was originally intended for. And this – it’s important to remember the overall purpose or main idea of that particular book of the Bible. Here are a couple of examples (all up for debate I’m sure):
- Genesis is about who God is, and who we are in light of who He is.
- Luke is about a Savior who came to seek and to save the lost.
- Acts is about the Spirit-empowered church fulfilling its mission.
One more example, for the purpose of this article, is the book of Hebrews. So what is Hebrews mainly about? Well, it’s about faith – we see the “Faith Hall of Fame” in Hebrews 11. And it’s about the power and primacy of God’s Word as seen in Hebrews 4. But what is it mainly about? I think you could summarize it like this:
Hebrews is about continuing in the faith because Jesus is better. Hebrews tells us that Jesus is better than Moses. He’s better than the angels. He’s better than Melchizedek. And because He is, we should continue in the faith. We should persevere, no matter how difficult. When you come to understand this main idea, it helps to see how the individual commands and exhortations fit.
Under that banner of perseverance in light of the greatness of Jesus, you find a very simple command, and yet one that is being abandoned rapidly today:
“And let us watch out for one another to provoke love and good works, not neglecting to gather together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging each other, and all the more as you see the day approaching” (Heb. 10:24-25).
Contemporary translation? Don’t stop going to church. And how does that fit with the main idea of Hebrews? Like this:
Wandering from the church leads to wandering from the faith.
Sounds kind of extreme, doesn’t it? After all, we’ve all got busy schedules. We’ve all got competing priorities. We have travel ball, dance recitals, lake trips, and all the rest. Surely it doesn’t mean that I’m wandering from the faith just because my church attendance has started to wane, does it? Perhaps it does. And perhaps it means we should be careful, if indeed it’s true that wandering from the faith often begins with wandering from the church. Here are three reasons to consider to support such a claim:
1. When we leave the church, we stop being reminded.
Over and over again in Scripture, you find God telling His people to “remember.” Remember the Sabbath. Remember how you provoked God in the wilderness. Remember, I am with you always. These are commands – not suggestions – and they come because we are by nature forgetful people.
But God is kind to us, and He knows even better than we do how forgetful we are of who He is and what He has done. CS Lewis knew this and once remarked, “People need to be reminded more than instructed.” More times than not when we come to Scripture or gather together with the saints, we aren’t there to learn; we are there to remember. There is, after all, nothing new under the sun, but just because it’s not new doesn’t mean it’s at the top of our minds.
When we start to neglect going to church, we are also stopping the regular rhythm of being reminded of who God is, what He has told us to do, and who we are in light of Him.
2. When we leave the church, we embrace self-reliance.
Part of the reason we go to church is because we need to. We need to because we know we are weak. We know we need other people. And we know that other people need us. This is at least part of the reason behind the biblical metaphor of the body Paul used to describe the church. To keep with that metaphor, can you imagine the pride of a leg thinking (if a leg could do that) that it could just go off and have a sustainable experience without the rest of the body?
In a sense, that’s exactly what we are doing when we stop going to church. We are saying, “I don’t need this. I don’t need you. I only need me.” And there we find ourselves on the slippery slope of pride, which inevitably leads us not only to neglect the church, but to neglect the authority of God. When there is only me, then I’m the only one I have to obey.
3. When we leave the church, we create a gap.
God made us to live in community. It’s in our DNA. This is at least part of what it means to be created in the image of God – that just as God exists in perfect community with Himself, so also are we created to live in relationships with other people. When we cut ourselves off from the community of faith, we create a gap, and that gap is going to be filled somehow. With someone. Or something.
This is a dangerous place to be – to leave ourselves open to whatever influence tickles our emotions and fancy at the moment, and to simply embrace that thing or person because there’s no one else there. The gap is going to be filled, one way or another, with something that helps us follow Jesus or something that doesn’t.
We must not, if we want to persevere in the faith, abandon the church. We must keep going… to keep going. The church is God’s gift to us – each one of us – not so that we have a perfect experience there, but because we are weak, and we really do need the help.