On this Labor Day holiday, you might expect me to write about the triumph of work over chaos, the straining effort of humankind to eke out a living from the wilds, and the benefits of labor to humanity.
But my focus today is the effort required to be involved and committed to our part of the church universal, our local church. This is hard work, because there are no perfect churches. We’d like to think there are, but there aren’t.
Why put up with meddling, holier-than-thou church ladies? Why endure flawed leadership and grumbling members? Why continue to go when our church may lack so many things we see in the pages of Scriptures?
Here’s the simple answer: When we love the Lord, we obey him. These are his instructions:
“Let us hold tightly without wavering to the hope we affirm, for God can be trusted to keep his promise. Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near” Hebrews 10:23-25 NLT.
You may be thinking that in the earliest centuries with the apostles present, the church surely followed Jesus closely, so the early church wouldn’t have had the problems we do now. If only.
Christ redeems sinners. That’s the point. Sinners sin. Therefore, the church has always been full of redeemed but growing sinners. It still is. I’m one of them, and so are you.
One of many things I love about the Bible is that it doesn’t hide the warts. Everyone’s mistakes and sins are recorded. The writers freely confess their blunders.
Therefore, I love that the Scriptures contain epistles (letters) from apostles to churches and individuals. These letters show us the behind-the-scenes activity of the church in the first century. These are first-person accounts worth examining.
The writers address church conflict, leadership flaws, bad teaching, sinning among church members, and harmful practices, in short, plenty of reasons to stay home from church to eat brunch. Their problems were just like ours.
All the things we could possibly hate about church were present—bigotry, prejudice, judgmental people, gossip, shady leaders, hypocritical immorality, pastors manipulating people for money, power trips, and personality conflicts.
For instance, almost all the churches Paul addressed had issues with prejudice and bigotry. Initially, the church was largely Jewish. Non-Jews (Gentiles) coming to church created a problem. They didn’t eat the same foods. They didn’t keep the same rules. They had moral lapses. How can we worship with these people? the Jewish believers wondered.
But Paul reminded Jewish Christians that there are no ethnic or racial divisions in God’s eyes. We are all one in Christ. Therefore, continue to meet together, he wrote. We still need this lesson, because we also tend to self-segregate along racial and economic lines.
The Scripture writers spent a lot of time addressing forgiveness, tolerance, conflict resolution, patience toward one another, and grace.
They were just like us. We are just like them. Still, God said to go.
The underlying principle from beginning to end, the assumption by all the writers was that, of course, we would attend. True believers go. Not meeting together with other believers leads to falling away from Christ. We need to be held accountable in our walk of faith. Go. This is what all the writers say and imply.
We need to meet with the other parts of Christ’s body. Without your particular part, the church cannot function properly. Without your interactions with the other parts, you cannot function properly. You need their encouragement and assistance. They need yours.
Apart from the church, you cannot be all God intends you to be.
When we gather with people so diverse we might never be friends in any other setting, and together we praise God, listen to his Word expounded, and work harmoniously to promote the gospel, then we model the fact that the church is a picture of the restoration of all that was lost in Eden.
This is about the suffering Savior who died for us, paid for our sins, and through faith placed us into God’s family. Now we have his Spirit within us, and we can come boldly before his throne, as if face-to-face, just as in Eden. Now we are one family again – God’s family.
One day we’ll all be in heaven together. Surely we can worship together now.
This isn’t about us.
It’s about Jesus. Listen to him.