‘And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the day drawing near’ (Hebrews 10:24-25).
This is a most important statement for ‘hitch-hikers to heaven’ and we should pay careful attention to it. The key phrase here is obviously ‘not neglecting to meet together’, and the word ‘neglecting’ tells us how serious it is to be casual about church attendance.
It has the same root as in Paul’s accusation, ‘Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me’ (2 Timothy 4:10, emphasis added). Demas had been the apostle’s close friend and colleague, but had left him in the lurch; and Paul tells us why: he was ‘in love with this present world’.
Professing Christians who are not seriously committed to their local church have a ‘heart’ problem — other things are more important or attractive to them.
There are a number of reasons why Christians should cherish their church.
Because cherishing your church shows that you love the Lord Jesus, the head of the church
Describing how he felt in his college at Oxford University shortly before his conversion, C. S. Lewis writes: ‘You must picture me alone in that room at Magdalen, night after night, feeling, whenever my mind lifted even for a second from my work, the steady unrelenting approach of Him who I so earnestly desired not to meet’ (emphasis added).
As Sunday approaches you should feel exactly the opposite, because Jesus promises: ‘For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them’ (Matthew 18:20).
This led Vance Havner to say, ‘If I could get one church full of folks that actually believed that verse, I don’t know when we’d get out of here tonight!’ If you truly love the Lord Jesus, surely he will be someone you earnestly desire to meet in the special way that he has promised and ordained?
When someone you love promises to be somewhere at a certain time, would you deliberately choose not to be there? The Christian life is made up of relationships with Christ and with other believers and we should do all we can to deepen these.
If your church has morning and evening services every Sunday, Jesus is at both. Are you? If not, why not? Do you choose to turn the Lord’s Day into the ‘Lord’s Half-Day’? Is your love for him so half-hearted and your hope of heaven so dim that you can settle for standing him up as often as you choose to meet him?
One of the psalmists cries: ‘O God … a day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere’ (Psalm 84:9-10). Another says, ‘Sing to the Lord a new song, his praise in the assembly of the godly!’ and adds: ‘For the Lord takes pleasure in his people’ (Psalm 149:1,4).
If the Lord takes pleasure in the company of his people, they should surely do the same in his.
Because there is nothing else like it
Preaching in London’s Metropolitan Tabernacle in 1891, C. H. Spurgeon said, ‘Imperfect as it is, it is the dearest place on earth to us … All who have first given themselves to the Lord should, as speedily as possible, also give themselves to the Lord’s people. How else is there to be a church on the earth?
‘If it is right for anyone to refrain from membership in the church, it is right for everyone, and then the testimony for God would be lost to the world! As I
‘Nor need your own faults keep you back, for the church is not an institution for perfect people, but a sanctuary for sinners saved by grace, who, though they are saved, are still sinners and need all the help they can derive from the sympathy and guidance of their fellow believers. have already said, the church is faulty, but that is no excuse for your not joining it if you are the Lord’s.
‘The church is the nursery for God’s weak children, where they are nourished and grow strong. It is the fold for Christ’s sheep — the home for Christ’s family’.
Vance Havner may sadly have been right to say, ‘Too many churches start at eleven o’clock sharp, and end at twelve o’clock dull’, but that is not God’s design or desire and, whatever its weaknesses, no other gathering of people comes close to the special place that the local church has in God’s eyes.
When the Bible sees Christians ‘addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with all your heart’ (Ephesians 5:19), God’s people gathering together to worship is clearly in mind.
Because it is a ‘heavenly’ thing to do
In a phrase that jumps out of the page, Paul Wolfe dedicates his book Setting our sights on heaven to the members of his congregation in Fairfax, Virginia, ‘with whom I share the privilege of going to heaven every Sunday morning at 9.30’.
The church met in the unlikely setting of a fire station meeting hall, yet later in the book Wolfe explains his striking dedication: ‘We go to heaven when we worship in the sense that we enjoy a foretaste of heavenly experience … the church’s worship on earth partakes of heavenly realities’.
The English preacher John Eliot (1604–1690), a missionary to American Indians in New England, used to say that Christians who had a passion for the Lord’s Day would know they were in heaven when they got there, as they would have spent at least one-seventh of their lives in heaven while living on the earth.
One of the psalmists says, ‘I was glad when they said to me, Let us go to the house of the Lord’ (Psalm 122:1). Preaching on this, and assuming (perhaps wrongly) that David wrote the psalm, C. H. Spurgeon said, ‘David’s heart was in the worship of God, and he was delighted when he found others inviting him to go where his desires had already gone…
‘Nothing better can happen to men and their friends than to love the place where God’s honour dwells … He pricked up his ears at the very mention of his Father’s house’. Do you do the same?
Another psalmist says, ‘My soul longs, yes, faints for the courts of the Lord’, where he could ‘sing for joy to the living God’ (Psalm 84:2). Does the very thought of joining with others to worship God excite you? If you are truly on your way to heaven with them, it should!
Because gathering with God’s people is one way of giving thanks to God for his goodness to you
In the fourth of the Ten Commandments God says of one day in seven that we are to ‘keep it holy’ (Exodus 20:8).
The word ‘holy’ does not mean that we are to make a special effort to be free from sin on that day, as this would infer that we need not make that effort on the other six. The root meaning of ‘holy’ tells us that one day in seven is to be different.
In his great kindness, God has ordained one day a week in which you can lay aside the burdens of daily work and use it to recharge your physical batteries. History shows that nations ignoring this have found their policy counter-productive, as we were created with this pattern in mind.
In obedience to God’s law, Jews in Old Testament times observed the seventh day of the week (the Sabbath) as a special day of both rest and worship, but after Jesus had fulfilled Old Testament law in his life, death and resurrection the early Christians (who were almost all devout Jews) switched their special day to Sunday, ‘the first day of the week’ (Acts 20:7), to commemorate the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
For 2000 years the church has seen this special day as a precious gift from God, enabling Christians, not only to rest from daily chores, but to benefit from all the blessings that flow from true worship and genuine fellowship. Hitch-hikers to heaven should not toy with this gift, but treasure it.
To be concluded
The author is a Christian preacher, teacher, apologist and author. His titles include Right with God and the booklet Ultimate Questions. The latter has over 14 million copies in print in about 60 languages. This article is taken from the author’s book The hitch-hiker’s guide to heaven (EP Books; £10.99, 320 pages; ISBN: 9780852349380).