Worship attendance can be a sensitive issue for Christians. Some are satisfied with coming only on Sunday mornings. Or Sunday evenings. Or for long enough to take the Lord’s Supper. Some are content with worshiping only at holidays. Some are only at the local assembly when facing tough times. Although some individuals seem content with their on-and-off attendance patterns, their attitude gets defensive when discussed by an elder, preacher, Bible class teacher, or fellow Christian. The truth is that many Christians are aware of their attendance problems, yet they take no action to fix it.
What does the Bible say about worship attendance? Very little, actually. I think that is by design; obedient lives don’t have to be convinced about the importance of worship and Bible study attendance. Truthfully, if we have “attendance problems” attendance is not our main problem. Upon examination, Hebrews 10:24-25 bears four principles that reveal what an “attendance problem” really is:
An “attendance problem” is really a heart problem. In New Testament Greek—as in most languages—much of the meaning of a clause is determined by the verb. In Hebrews 10:25, the verb form is translated “not neglecting” or “not forsaking.” In other passages in the New Testament, we see the idea of intentionally neglecting or forsaking in the same word. Paul uses the word in 2 Timothy 4:10 and again in verse 16, “For Demas, in love with the present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica…At my first defense no one came to stand by me, but all deserted me” (emphasis not in ESV). Demas and those who forsook Paul made an intentional choice to neglect him. When we choose something else over worshiping our God (sleep, recreation, etc.), we intentionally desert the opportunity to tell God how great He is. Additionally, the same verb is used in Hebrews 13:5, “for he has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you’” (emphasis not in ESV). What a shame that our Lord has said that he will never forsake us, yet our hearts sometimes intentionally forsake Him.
An “attendance problem” is really a fellowship problem. The immediate context of Hebrews 10:25 is worth addressing. Notice what the author says in verse 24, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works…”; he then continues later in verse 25, “but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” The Hebrews’ writer knew that Christian fellowship was an important aspect of not falling away from Christ. Coming together for worship, Bible study, prayer, and other spiritual activities is vital to keeping our—and our fellow Christians’—spiritual determination strong. By neglecting these opportunities, we make the statement that we care about ourselves more than we do our brothers and sisters in Christ. May we never be guilty of such selfishness, but may we lift the needs of others above our own (Phil. 2:3-4).
An “attendance problem” is really a worship problem. In Hebrews 10:19-25, the author is explaining the beautiful opportunity Christians have to approach God directly through Christ (because of His sacrifice). First-century Christians were tempted to fall back into Judaism. The author is reminding them that Christ allows that which the previous High Priests could not: continual and direct access to God. The implication is that not worshipping correctly negates the blessing of New Testament worship. Intentionally forsaking worship opportunities makes the same statement. Our attitude toward attendance is also our attitude toward the blessing of New Testament worship.
An “attendance problem” is really a Cross problem. Finally, the broader context of Hebrews chapter 10 reveals a humbling principle about worship. By this point in the letter to the Hebrews, the author says essentially that, “Christianity is better than Judaism because of the Sacrifice of Jesus Christ.” If we fail to worship correctly or worship regularly, we prove that we do not care about the cross of Christ. Notice what the writer says later in chapter 10, “Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy…how much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has spurned the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace?…It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Heb. 10:28-29, 31). We see how much God values worship when we see the cross; do we value it enough to follow Him there?
May we always seek to fix our problems, even if they are bigger than they seem. See you at worship.