We often talk about how Christians should follow the examples of the early church. The early church met daily so we say we ought to be happy to meet on Sunday nights and Wednesday nights. We are very strong in our opinions about attendance at every service each time the doors of the church building are open. We point out that the first-century Christians met together with gladness and singleness of heart, without griping, complaining, and whining. We insist that we would do well to follow their example and meet together as often as possible, as it is a wonderful opportunity we should not neglect.
I am all for Christians getting together. We all should always be eager to meet with one another as we have opportunity to encourage one another and edify the body, just as we should be eager to do good to others as we have opportunity (Gal. 6:10). But my concern is that we place too much emphasis on the “worship service” and Bible studies we set up while we place too little emphasis on the way we live our lives. We put too much emphasis on talking the talk and too little on walking the walk. We put too much emphasis on the play part (singing and enjoying a good sermon and socializing with one another) and too little on the work part (loving our neighbor as ourselves).
Going to services is not a big deal for most of us. It is easy to do. It usually takes hardly any effort at all and is often quite pleasant. It can even be the only socialization some people get, so it fulfills an emotional need. But remember, the One who said not to forsake the assembling of ourselves together also said to do good to others as we have opportunity. If missing a service of the church is sinful, then missing an opportunity to do good is also sinful. If we must be present at every single service the church offers, then we also must avail ourselves of every single opportunity to do good.
But do we live our daily lives with the same concern that we have for making sure we show up for every service of the church? Or are we simply tithing mint and cummin and anise while we neglect the weightier matters of the law–like “love thy neighbour as thyself” (Matt. 22:39)? Are we worshiping Him in vain, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men (“go to church three times a week”–no, it isn’t in the Word) (Mark 7:7), while we ignore the heart of the gospel?
We will say, “Yes, but these things we ought to have done but not left the other undone” (Matt. 23:23). But the thing is that God did not say, “Attend every service each and every time the door is open.” He said, “Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together” (Heb. 10:25). As I have alluded to, missing a service is not forsaking assembling ourselves any more than missing an opportunity to do good is forsaking doing good.
No, God did not say that we must attend every service of the church. But, on the other hand, He did say, “Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away” (Matt. 5:42). Now that is hard. But do we do it? No, we do not feel compelled to do that one, even though it is a command. Why? Because people might be going to use our money wrongly (as if we could not take the beggar and buy him some food) or whatever other excuse we can come up with to keep from having to suffer.
People ask for money on a daily basis. I see it on TV. I hear it on the radio. Sometimes we cannot even get into Wal-Mart without passing someone who is asking for money. Men stand alongside the road with signs that say “Will work for food” and we pass them by, as if God had said absolutely nothing about giving to those who ask us.
My first husband became a Christian before we got married. He attended services very regularly for a time after our marriage. Then he started missing for one reason or another. Little by little he missed more and more. Eventually he stopped going altogether. Finally, after about a year of his not going at all, one couple came to visit him. That was it–one couple out of perhaps one hundred couples after a year of his not attending. But they all were going to services three times a week, so I guess they thought it was okay that they let my husband slip through the cracks without so much as a phone call.
We get upset and will stand up and fight for the idea that no one should ever miss even one service because we should want to be there if the people of God are there. But then we drive by that poor man on the side of the road with the sign in his hand, afraid he might hurt us or he might be trying to take advantage of us, or we let our brothers and sisters suffer alone and do not even go to check on them. We preach sermon after sermon on attendance and never so much as mention the man standing on the side of the road.
“Bad Samaritans,” that is what we are, fighting to uphold the commandments of men and neglecting the commandments of God. It would not surprise me at all to see one of us stop and hand the man with the sign a tract and say, “See you in church on Sunday?” I think that is something like saying, “Be ye warmed and filled,” but not doing anything to help the man get the things he needs (Jas. 2:16).
Speaking of following examples of the early church, the early church sold their lands and houses and gave the money to the apostles and had all things in common. They did that with gladness and singleness of heart too. I do not read of their griping, complaining, or whining about that either. I believe we would also do well to follow their example in that and be glad when we have an opportunity to give up our possessions to live communally with the other saints. That is also a wonderful opportunity to serve God.
Acts 4:32 ¶And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul: neither said any of them that ought of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things common.
33 And with great power gave the apostles witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus: and great grace was upon them all.
34 Neither was there any among them that lacked: for as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the prices of the things that were sold,
35 And laid them down at the apostles’ feet: and distribution was made unto every man according as he had need.
But I do not see us clamoring to follow this example of the early church. I do not see us condemning people for not doing it and saying, as we do regarding attendance, “If we truly love the Lord we will want to sell our houses and lands. The early church did it.” No, when it is a hardship, like even a tiny one of picking up a hitchhiker or giving money to a beggar, we are not quite as eager to do it. (And, yes, times were just as dangerous–maybe more so–when the Good Samaritan stopped to help the injured man as they are today.) But when it is easy and fun, like meeting and sitting on comfortable pews for an hour and singing, we are all for it.
In my opinion, unless we are ready to do all that the early church did, we cannot bring up examples of things they did and try to bind them on others or guilt others into doing them. It is easy for us to sit in our padded pews and listen to a preacher talk the talk—and condemn others who do not show up for his lesson. It is a little harder to give up our possessions or our time, and to use our energy and resources to help others less fortunate than we are.
Yes, I know, the early Christians needed to be together because the church was in its infancy and everybody was staying in Jerusalem, so they had to sell their property in order to provide for needs. But today things are different, right? Well, the early Christians also needed to be physically together because they did not have phones or the Internet like we do today. Things are also different today with regard to how we can stay in contact and communicate and encourage one another. What works to relieve us of following one example of the early church works to relieve us from following another.
As Edgar Guest said in his poem:
I’d rather see a sermon than hear one any day;
I’d rather one should walk with me than merely point the way.
(To read the complete poem go to: Edgar Guest.)
Lest someone say I am trying to get out of attending every service, that is not what this is about. It is about consistency. It is about balance. It is about not majoring in minors and minoring in majors. It is about not straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel. It is about not tithing mint and anise and cummin and neglecting judgment, mercy, and faith. It is about not judging someone for not following one example of the early church when we do not follow all of them ourselves. It is about getting to the heart of the gospel of Christ and loving our neighbor as we love ourselves.
Matthew 22:37 Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.
38 This is the first and great commandment.
39 And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.