We’re picking up where we left off in this series about leaving the church. In this entry, we simply want to recognize the obvious: in order to leave your church, you have to have been a part of one.
One of the most-often quoted verses in the New Testament in regards to church attendance is Hebrews 10:25:
“Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”
The only problem with using it to support church attendance is that it was not written primarily to 21st century American Christians. We must consider the original recipients of this message and seek to understand the verse and its context as they would have.
In the first century, they did not have large gatherings of Christians – for the most part. We know there were 1000s being added to the church in Jerusalem in the amazing days following the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in Acts 2. You can see that the church experienced phenomenal numerical growth in those days as you read through Acts 3-4. Those days of growth were not without foreshadowing of tougher, leaner times to come as the apostles were jailed, beaten and criticized by the reigning religious leaders of the day.
In Acts 5, the growing church, still headquartered in Jerusalem saw that it wasn’t all fun and games and miracles. There was a holy expectation on its members and those who would claim Jesus. A married couple named Ananias and Saphira provide the first case study in deceitfulness within the church. One message we can walk away from that chapter is: “church” is not about me.
In Acts 6-7, things take a somber turn (if a couple being struck dead for an attempt at self-promotion isn’t somber enough). Deacons are selected. That’s not the somber part… One of the new deacons named Stephen is arrested by the Jewish religious leaders. At his hearing, his testimony pushes them past the breaking point, and his bold proclamation of Jesus as the Messiah that they have crucified results in his being rocked out of this world.
Chapter 8 of Acts begins with a whole lotta people leaving their church:
On that day a great persecution broke out against the church at Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him. But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off men and women and put them in prison. (v1-3)
These people weren’t leaving their church because it had failed to meet their needs. They weren’t unhappy with the preaching, and they didn’t feel like they weren’t being fed… These folks exited the Jerusalem gathering because if they stayed, they would be killed.
They weren’t just fearful of their life. They scattered because it was strategic and necessary for the gospel to be proclaimed every where. In this case, leaving their church was for the ultimate purpose of evangelism and missions.
That is certainly not one of the more common reasons for leaving churches today, is it? We are much too centered on “church” being a place where our needs are met. However, the perspective in the New Testament is much different.
What we see take place in the initial chapters of Acts begins the story of the rest of the New Testament. It was not easy to profess faith in Jesus Christ and renounce false religions and follow Him. You weren’t a member of a church, but you were a member of His church. And it was hard to belong. There was pretty steep entry fee called “dying to self.” Jesus said:
“If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?”
Back to Hebrew 10.25. “Let us not give up meeting together” was not a wimpy command pleading for people to show up on Sundays. Rather, it was a bold statement of faith urging believers to gather, encourage one another, and to demonstrate that faith in Christ is stronger than their fear of the world.
How does that compare to your own commitment to regularly meet with other believers?
Stay tuned for more in the series…
On this day...
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