by Jon Payne
Churchless Christianity is wildly unbiblical.
God’s people are called to live in loving and intentional community with one another, and never in isolation (Acts 2:42–47). This, of course, is by God’s design. He knows what His children need, and His Word is replete with passages underscoring the central role that the local church is meant to play in our lives. We need the means of grace of Word, sacraments, and prayer (Acts 2:42). We need spiritual oversight (Heb. 13:17). We need constant encouragement and accountability (Heb. 3:13). We need each other (Rom. 12:3–8; Eph. 4:1–16).
The church is a body with many parts (1 Cor. 12:12–31), a family with many members (Gal. 6:10), a temple with many living stones (1 Peter 2:5), and a nation with many citizens (1 Peter 2:9). These and other scriptural metaphors emphasize the nature and necessity of the church for the Christian life. Believers are united to Christ, and by virtue of that union, they are united to one another (John 17:21).
Since commitment to the local church is a nonnegotiable, the inspired writer to the Hebrews exhorts believers not to neglect meeting together (10:25). Apparently, it was the “habit of some” to neglect public worship and thus disregard their church family. In order for them to “hold fast the confession of [their] hope without wavering” and stay tethered to their spiritual moorings, it was paramount for everyone to remain under the sound ministry of the Word and in close fellowship with one another (v. 23). Sanctification is best cultivated in the soil of Christ-centered worship and fellowship.
In view of God’s blueprint for spiritual growth, the writer exhorts Christians to “consider how to stir up one another to love and good works” (v. 24). The two important verbs in this verse are “consider” and “stir up.” Christians are urged to seriously “consider” or “pay attention to” the spiritual needs of others, and not just their own. God wants us to ask, “How can I personally ‘stir up’ or ‘provoke’ (Greek: paroxysmos—positively stimulate) my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ to ‘love and good works’?” In contrast to the self-centered church-hopper, the believer who takes this approach humbly “looks not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Phil. 2:4).
Depending on one’s spiritual gifts, this “stirring up” of others may take different forms. For instance, some might be especially gifted in hospitality, opening their homes with the express purpose of spurring on fellow believers. Others may excel in verbal or written encouragement. Still others may be gifted in the service of others and by their example may inspire “love and good works” among the flock.
While members of the body of Christ will possess varying gifts for graciously “stirring up” others to “love and good works,” the author of Hebrews reminds us of the most obvious way in which we all may spur on fellow believers: through faithful attendance to weekly Lord’s Day worship services. When Christians gather together to worship in spirit and truth—to hear the Word, confess sin, sing praise, confess the faith, witness baptisms, receive communion, take vows, and warmly greet one another in Christ—they actively and mysteriously foster Christian unity and “stir up” others toward godly living. Dear Christian, your active and joyful participation in Lord’s Day worship is integral to the spiritual encouragement and growth of others. Your absence, however, has the opposite effect.
Reformed commentator Simon J. Kistemaker notes that one of the first indications of a lack of love toward God and neighbor is for a Christian to stay away from worship services. Such a Christian forsakes the communal obligations of attending these meetings and displays the symptoms of selfishness and self-centeredness.
Steady devotion to corporate worship communicates not only a love for and dependence upon the triune God but also a love for and commitment to the body of Christ. To confess the “communion of the saints” in the Apostles’ Creed is to affirm that every Christian “must feel himself bound to use his gifts, readily and cheerfully, for the advantage and welfare of other members” (Heidelberg Catechism 55). Unless providentially hindered, therefore, make church attendance the highest priority in your weekly schedule, and thus “encourage one another … all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Heb. 10:25b).