People often say that you must be faithful to your local church first. For example, if you wish to visit a different church one Sunday, people will tell you that your first commitment must be to your home church. If you're involved in ministry outside of the local church (e.g. campus ministries), they say that you must be faithful to your local church first, and you must get permission and blessing from your local pastor. Is this correct? Or do these people make the local church a bigger deal than it really is? Are we required to be faithful TO our local church or faithful IN our local church?
I even heard one pastor say that people who only attend Sunday morning services, but not Sunday night and mid-week services, are not really saved. What he conveniently forgot to mention was that many of those folk who are in church all the time are not really spiritual, but rather use the local church as a substitute for personal devotion. They don't read the Bible themselves, they just listen to their pastors' sermons. But I bet that pastor doesn't really have a problem with that as long as those folk pay their tithes. Do these pastors really want people to study the Word for themselves, or are they threatened by believers who are too knowledgeable? Do they really want their church folk to have close relationships with God, or do they just want them to attend services? Do they really want their members to do real Christian ministry, or do they just want them to get involved in the local church programs? Are they more faithful to the local church than to the kingdom of God (universal church)?
First of all, faithfulness is a Christian virtue. In fact it is one of the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22). Believers are required to be faithful, period. But you need to know exactly what people mean when they make the above statements. When many people say those things, what they really mean is that you must be a regular attendant at church services, and that you must be a regular partaker in many of the church programs and activities. The problem is that many of these church activities are neither ministry nor fellowship, according to the Bible’s understanding of those terms. Many churches are just social organizations and middle class country clubs. There isn’t much real ministry going on in many churches today. And what we call fellowship are just social gatherings. Is that what we are called to be faithful to?
Most of the Bible’s references to the church are to the universal church, not the local church. What the Bible calls ministry/service is very different from modern day church activities. And what the Bible calls fellowship is much more than the social gatherings over pot-luck lunches that we are accustomed to today. However, the Bible does address the local church, especially in the pastoral epistles of Paul – the ones to Timothy and Titus.
1 Timothy 3
3 This is a faithful saying: If a man desires the position of a bishop,he desires a good work.
2 A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, temperate, sober-minded, of good behavior, hospitable, able to teach;
3 not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money, but gentle, not quarrelsome, not covetous;
4 one who rules his own house well, having his children in submission with all reverence
5 (for if a man does not know how to rule his own house, how will he take care of the church of God?);
6 not a novice, lest being puffed up with pride he fall into the same condemnation as the devil.
7 Moreover he must have a good testimony among those who are outside, lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.
8 Likewise deacons must be reverent, not double-tongued, not given to much wine, not greedy for money,
9 holding the mystery of the faith with a pure conscience.
10 But let these also first be tested; then let them serve as deacons, being found blameless.
11 Likewise, their wives must be reverent, not slanderers, temperate, faithful in all things.
12 Let deacons be the husbands of one wife, ruling their children and their own houses well.
13 For those who have served well as deacons obtain for themselves a good standing and great boldness in the faith which is in Christ Jesus.
5 For this reason I left you in Crete, that you should set in order the things that are lacking, and appoint elders in every city as I commanded you—
6 if a man is blameless, the husband of one wife, having faithful children not accused of dissipation or insubordination.
7 For a bishop must be blameless, as a steward of God, not self-willed, not quick-tempered, not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money,
8 but hospitable, a lover of what is good, sober-minded, just, holy, self-controlled,
9 holding fast the faithful word as he has been taught, that he may be able, by sound doctrine, both to exhort and convict those who contradict.
In 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1, Paul discusses the requirements of those who would be bishops and deacons. Whatever name you give to church positions today, they can generally be classified as bishops and deacons. The first one refers to those with “spiritual” ministries, e.g. teaching and preaching. The latter refers to those with physical ministries, e.g. cleaning the church, organizing events, etc. Among the qualities listed are:
- a good Christian testimony especially to those who are not believers
- faithfulness in one’s family
- not greedy, self-willed or easily angered
- self control
- doctrinal soundness
Conspicuously absent from those lists is any reference to faithfulness to local church activities. Am I saying that believers should not be faithful in their local church? No. But we have to be careful to distinguish between what is in the Bible and what are man-made rules. Pastors today make rules like, “In order for someone to be a leader in the church, he or she must attend all the other church activities and meetings.” Church organizations have those rules for their pastors. Their pastors are required to attend every single meeting. Many of them have to balance secular jobs with their pastorates, and still find time to attend all of those boring meetings. This is the last thing that Paul intended when he penned 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1. Don’t you think that a pastor's time is much better spent praying, studying God’s word, and seeking God’s face? Read Acts 6:4.
Many of these church activities are totally unnecessary and they take away precious time that people could be spending before God and with their family (divorce rate over 50%, hello), and doing real ministry. According to the above scriptures, Paul places stronger emphasis on faithfulness within one’s family than faithfulness within one’s local church. Paul even said that if a man was found not to be a good leader in his home, he should not be leading the people of God. This applied to both bishops and deacons. We have divorced and remarried people holding major leadership positions in church, but it’s OK because they are faithful in the local church. Do I have anything against divorced people? No. All I am saying is that we have our priorities mixed up because we value our traditions above the word of God.
Some people today spend most of their free time inside the local church, while family life spends most of its time in the gutter. That’s not what Paul had in mind when he penned his epistles. This is not what Jesus had in mind when he founded the church. The family has a higher status in the plan of God than does the local church. If pastors would devote more time to developing family life, especially equipping men to lead their families in bible study and prayer, that would do a lot more for the church in the long run. But they don’t get any offering if people stay at home on a Sunday evening. There, I said it! I don’t believe in Sunday evening services because it takes away crucial time that the family should be spending together with God. Here is my stupid advice to any single person wanting help to prepare them for married life. Find a family that is not strong in the Lord, and conduct occasional bible studies and prayer with them. See what that accomplishes.
If I read my Bible correctly, true ministry is more outside of the local church than inside. True ministry is in our every day lives, less so within our local church walls. It is important to have spiritual authority over us, e.g. a pastor. That is crucial to our spiritual growth and development. But I disagree with Augustine who said that if God is our Father, the Church must be our Mother. We should be careful not to get so suckered into local church activities, that they distract us from the real ministry at hand. Balance is the key.Home PDF Comment Bookmark
Why are you discouraging people from attending church?
People need to develop the ability to read and understand, so they would not jump to incorrect conclusions. At no point did I discourage anyone from attending church. I made it abundantly clear that believers should attach themselves to a local church and find a pastor they could submit to and learn from. What I am discouraging is church leaders from having so many unnecessary services that don't accomplish anything of worth. Instead they should focus on the true mission of the local church, which is to equip the saints so they can do the work of the ministry. Most of our services are celebratory in nature, and do very little to help believers to perform real ministry to their families, coworkers, fellow students, etc.
The early church met daily (Acts 2:46). What is wrong with having midweek and Sunday evening services?
There is nothing wrong with Sunday
evening services, per se. I never said it was wrong. I just think it is an
incredibly stupid idea. There are much better things that believers can do with
a Sunday evening. But it's certainly not wrong.
Contrary to popular opinion, the early church is NOT the example God would have us follow regarding church meetings. The early church was reluctant to fully obey the great commission. Jesus told them to go into 1) Jerusalem, 2) Judea, 3) Samaria, and 4) the utmost parts of the world (the gentiles). See Acts 1:8. But up to Acts 7, they never left Jerusalem. They had already settled into a nice comfort zone (see Acts 6). I don't think they had any intention of spreading the gospel to those unclean gentiles. So what did God do? He raised up Saul of Tarsus to persecute the church. The very first verse of Acts 8 shows the disciples being scattered into Judea and Samaria. Then when God was satisfied, he grabbed hold of Saul, saved him and sent him to the gentiles. God had to force them to get in line with his will. What made you think the early church was God's ideal pattern? In 1 Corinthians 16:1, the implication is that the "later church" met once a week. That every day church thing was only temporary. That was NEVER God's plan for the church.
I insist that Sunday evenings are the ideal time for families to have their own devotions. In the end that will accomplish much more than a Sunday evening church service. The church services should be designed to equip parents to study the bible personally and as a family, to equip workers to be witnesses in the workplace, etc. That does not happen in most church services. I know someone will say, "Well why don't families have their devotion on Saturday?" The fact is that a family is also supposed to have recreational time together. That is not unspiritual. When there are too many church services, there is an imbalance in people's lives. Why are so many Christians getting divorced? Why are so many pastors' kids turning away from God?
One of the biggest problems the church faces today is getting our children to serve God. What kind of example are parents setting for their children if they only attend church once a week?
I share your concern for the next generation of Christians. But as usual I'm appealing to scripture to find answers, not man's understanding. The bible clearly teaches that if we raise children in the way they should go, they would not depart from it (Prov 22:6). The bible places the onus squarely on the parents to raise godly children. Where did we get the idea that the key to raising godly children is by attending church 3 times a week? The real key is by having a church like environment in the home. Children are not moved by the fact that daddy attends church whenever the doors are open. In fact, kids today are more turned off by that, because more often than not it means that daddy is too spiritual to have any time for them. Kids are more moved when daddy loves mummy with the love of God, when mummy teaches them the bible, when daddy prays with them. I said it before and I'll say it again, too many people use church services as a substitute for true devotion while genuine ministry goes unfulfilled.
You should read the old testament. David said I was glad when they said to me let us go up to the house of the Lord. God's house meant everything to his people.
One of the fundamental differences
between old testament Judaism and new testament Christianity concerns the
central place of worship. In the OT, it was God's house or temple. Yes it did
mean everything to his people THEN. But Jesus said the time is coming and is even
now, when the true worshipers will worship in spirit and in truth. The Jews
needed a central place of worship, while the gentiles did not know what they
were worshiping. Christ did away with the need for a central place of worship.
Instead WE are God's house, not some building down the street. His people are
his temple. Whenever two friends pray with each other over the phone, when
students study the bible at lunch time in their schools, when families have
devotion together, when parents pray with their children, and when a large
group of believers meet for a big celebration; that's all church. Whenever we
are gathered in his name, that is church.
Christianity is more what happens outside of the building we call church, than what happens inside it. We see this demonstrated in Acts 4:31. When the disciples got filled with the Spirit, they did not roll on the floor and have carpet time. Neither did they just soak it all in. They went out. The real purpose of their gathering was not to just have a good time together, but to receive "equipping" for real ministry. Most of our modern church services are just what we call celebrations. There is no equipping of the saints taking place (Ephesians 4:12). Instead of just hearing the pastor preach three times a week, people need to learn to study the bible for themselves so they can teach their children at home. They need to be taught how to study God's word. Does that happen in most churches? No because modern church services are not designed for that. This is why I say many church services are a useless waste of time. They don't accomplish what the church is really supposed to be doing.
Why are you dissing the church? Jesus said that the gates of hell shall not prevail against the church. Nothing you say can ever cause the church to fail.
Well this comment shows how illiterate
some people really are. Clearly that scripture is referring to the universal
church and not the local church, hence is totally irrelevant to this
discussion. Many local churches have fallen into error and cultic ways.
[This was an actual comment I got by the way. The reader then proceeded to rebuke me for calling God's word irrelevant. There is a reason I don't allow people to post directly to my site.]