There is something about the gathering of God’s people under Word and Sacrament that ought to excite anyone who claims the name of Christ. We get to participate in a dialogue with God and hear His Word preached, sing praises in response to what He has done for us in Christ and partake of the bread and cup as a means of grace. The church is where we are encouraged, convicted, edified and loved. While this attitude should be the norm amongst Christians, some do not share it. It is the Scriptures that tell us what the church is and what our attitudes should be. We should love the church because it is the bride of Christ, for whom Christ died (Ephesians 5:25, Acts 20:28). Yet, so many people who label themselves Christians do not have a very high ecclesiology. It is common to find people outside the church label themselves as Christians. Many of these Christians would identify under the umbrella, “Evangelical”. While I do not want to paint them with a broad brush and assume that all of my Evangelical brothers and sisters share the same reasons for not being a part of a local body, there are a few reasons that stick out.
Hurt by the church
Whether it was a pastor, someone in leadership or another congregant, we can pretty much agree that we have all been hurt at one point or another. Pastors will say and do hurtful things. Elders and deacons do not always think pastorally and can be thoughtless and careless at times. Fellow congregants can be downright mean. The church is full of sinners. It is made up of people who are still battling sin and although many have been redeemed, there are habitual sins that still remains (Romans 7:7-23). In those moments, forgiveness needs to happen. Forgiveness and repentance are markers of a church that is healthy and vibrant. No doubt there are churches that do not function this way. When a church does not practice these things, it is an unhealthy church; one that Christians probably should leave. However, most of the time it is not this way. Regrettably, people’s feelings get hurt to the point that they leave, when it could have been avoided with a conversation (Matthew 18:15-20).
All I need is Jesus
"I'm spiritual, not religious. It's just me and Jesus." This is an all too common statement about the church from people outside the church. Some have this false idea that Jesus and the church are divided. They believe they can have Jesus without the church. The fact is that Jesus is the head of the church (Ephesians 5:23). Christians are members of Christ's body, which is the church (Colossians 1:18). Christians are to submit to the authority of elders appointed by Christ (Hebrews 13:17). They have the privilege of sitting under the preached Word, to partake in the Lord’s Supper and to sing praises with fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. It is in the gathering of the people of God where we get a glimpse what Revelation 7:9-10 describes, “After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” What an amazing description of what we will be doing for all eternity. It only makes sense that we would participate here on earth each Lord’s Day.
It’s not a priority
For some, the church is an inconvenience. It is just another activity they feel is not as important as participating in sports, dance or any other extracurricular activity. It may be the only day of the week they are able to catch up on much needed sleep. Missing church seemingly costs them nothing. They would rather listen to their favorite preacher on YouTube or Sermon Audio. The unfortunate truth in this way of thinking is these brothers and sisters are short-changing themselves. They are missing out on the means of grace that our Lord has given to us as a gift. Because we live in a highly individualistic culture, we seek the familiar, that which is most comfortable. It’s hard to be vulnerable to others, to sacrifice some comforts in order to minister to others or have others to minister to us. The writer of Hebrews exhorts us in chapter ten of his letter this way, “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, 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 10:24-25). How are we to grow in love and good deeds? How do we encourage one another towards godliness? The answer is meeting together in the gathered assembly on Sunday morning and evening! While small groups and bible studies are all wonderful avenues to grow and foster community, they are no substitute for the gathered people of God on the Lord’s Day.